Hashtags. They’ve become ubiquitous in our national culture. Everything, it seems, has a hashtag. Turn on the TV on Sunday and you’re likely to see “#foxsports” somewhere on the screen. Amazingly, at least to my knowledge (and given that I’m 33, I’ve probably already started missing out on some of the newest trends), we have yet to convert the hashtag into a spoken word or catch-phrase, unlike “smileyface!” Give it time.
Popularized by Twitter, hashtags are now the unofficial organizational tool of social media. You find them on a significant amount of the posts on sites like Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine. Last, but certainly not least, Facebook announced this past summer that hashtags (and, more importantly for our discussion, the ability to search hashtags) are now a feature for Facebook users. Hashtags are even gaining considerable influence as general search tools. 9 billion searches are performed on Twitter each month. Yahoo! and Bing can’t match that total combined. (For the uninitiated, a primer)
Hashtags allow you to engage online users, target your audience, and promote awareness of your firm. So here are my 7 Tips to Enhance Social Media Engagement Using Hashtags.
1) Plan and research your hashtags.
The most important thing that I hope you get out of this piece is that hashtags should serve as just another piece of a well-crafted firm marketing plan. When carefully crafted and targeted, hashtags will expose a whole new group of people to your firm and what you do. However, just like everything else in your marketing plan, make sure you know what it means before you start shouting about it.
Research your hashtags and MAKE SURE they mean what you THINK they mean. There are entire websites dedicated to tales of businesses that didn’t research their hashtags! There are several places one can look to perform this research (e.g. www.hashtags.org, a good source to check per this article). If you come up with your own, one writer suggests actually sending out a tweet dedicated to explaining it.
2) Keep it short!
If you want it to be catchy, make sure that people can remember it. If you’re creating a hashtag, you’re goal should be to create a discussion that others use. Also, don’t abbreviate unless it’s a common term (e.g. “limousine” to “limo”).
3) Repeat (but don’t overuse) your hashtags.
Particularly vital if you’re creating your own hashtags, readers can only find them if they’re being used. Just like the advertisements in the Simpsons Halloween special who ran amok all over Springfield, they die as soon as people stop paying attention to them. Even if you didn’t create them, by referring to the same hashtag in multiple posts, you increase the likelihood that someone who searches for that hashtag will view your content, and isn’t that the goal?
4) Keep it relevant.
I can’t say it any better than this: “A good hashtag is a targeted hashtag.” By keeping your hashtags narrowly crafted, you can ensure that your posts will reach a much more specific audience. Just a slight change in your hashtag to make it more specific could be the difference in whether your intended audience sees your posts or not.
One article offered the following comparison: “#agediscrimination” or “#illegalinterviewquestions” are more likely to reach a specific audience than “#employmentlaw.” However, don’t make them too long!
5) Don’t Spam
It’s annoying. I mean, it’s REALLY annoying. You #wouldn’t #want #to #read #a #post #like #this. Neither do your readers.
6) Avoid punctuation
Neither Twitter nor Facebook allow commas, semi-colons, periods, apostrophes or any other form of punctuation in hashtags. “#Mission:Impossible” will be converted to “#Mission” for the purposes of organizing and searching. Ignoring this rule is another way for your hashtag to end up on someone’s epic-fail website.
7) Look for trending and popular hashtags
Generally, I view social media as an online version of a giant ballroom filled with people. People of every size and sort, every interest and occupation is represented. While it’s nice to be able to start a conversation about something unique and have a few others join you, it’s not necessarily the way to get the largest number of people in the ballroom to hear what you have to say.
For that, you want to have a pithy, informative response to a popular discussion that has already started. The same is true for social media, and hashtags offer a totally unique opportunity to lend your firm’s voice to major discussions of the day. Various search engines, including ones built in to Facebook and Twitter, will help you find out what the “trending” topics of the day are. Use those already-existing discussions to focus some attention towards you and your firm by adding something meaningful and important to an already-popular conversation.
Hashtags are an excellent supplement to your existing social media strategy, but even the best hashtags cannot serve as the basis for a strategy. Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to expanding your social media reach to a massive new audience.